Sassafras albidum

My sister died this morning, I am posting photos of her below.

In Orange, Virginia with husband Sam.

Warrenton Virginia with Sam and her childhood dog Atlas.

Sam, Gray and Sam in California

Sam Coale, Gray Coale and Captain Emory on the bank of the River Ouse

with her adult hound, Ariel.

visiting in Charlottesville

In the seat of of happiness, Jane’s kitchen

Gray was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer in November of ’09.
Gray never asked the Doctor about prognosis, never Googled. She went about her life. I had a lot of ideas early on about how she should deal with her cancer but I managed to keep my mouth shut and follow her lead.

Lead she did. Gray worked her way through chemo (Gemzar, Tarceva and Cisplatin), never lost any hair, never lost her appetite, managed to fold all the medical appointments into her approach to life. (Made a lot of new friends, chemo-suite folk, doctors, nurses, custodians, ultra-sound and radiation therapy techs, she’d ask them about themselves and remember their info.)

We all think of denial as a bad thing, I think Freud taught us to do that, and then Elisabeth Kubler-Ross didn’t exactly promote the value of denial. But I read an article recently in the Washington Post which touted the benefit of denial with a diagnosis that borders on a death sentence.

I wanted to tell my friends and family about Gray’s diagnosis, asked her if that was all right, she said no. She wanted the same interaction with the world that she’d always had. I largely honored her request.

Gray’s quality of life was good for 13 months after diagnosis, but a month ago, the pancreatic cancer figured out the mechanics of metastasis, spread to her liver, stomach, lungs and bone. Secondary to that spread, she got massive edema in her legs. For the first time her mobility was compromised.

She went in to consult with her oncologist February 7 and understood there was nothing curative left in the pharmacopoeia to try. She went to hospice that same day, switching from curative to palliative care. She said she felt safe in hospice.

No pain, no fear.

May she rest in peace and rise in glory.
July 11, 1951-February 25, 2011

In lieu of flowers, please make donations to the Gray E. Coale Memorial Garden at Swan Point. Please make checks payable to Swan Point Cemetery, 585 Blackstone Boulevard, Providence, RI 02906. The idea is a grove of sourwoods (Oxydendrum arboreum), some other natives, and a place to sit and listen to the wind.
The funeral will be held at St. Martin’s Church, 50 Orchard Avenue, Providence, RI on Thursday, March 3, at 11:00 AM.

Author: WmX

I stumbled off the track to success in 1968, started chasing shadows that summer. Since then, In addition to farm-laborer and newspaper photographer my occupational incarnations include dishwasher, janitor, retail photo clerk, plumber, HVAC repairman, auto mechanic, CAT scan technologist, computer worker and politico (whatever it takes to buy a camera.) I am on the road to understanding black and white photography.

43 thoughts on “Sassafras albidum”

  1. I love hearing about people who live their life and handle their “passing” on their own terms. Sounds like she was a woman of integrity and soul. You will miss her very much, but she’s still with you.

  2. Gray was the sweetest person I have had the pleasure of knowing. That terrific smile and hijinks will surely be missed by everyone who knew her. May she rest in piece.

  3. A beautiful portrayal, in words and pictures, of the girl we knew and love. I can hear her laughing. Thank you. Mary

  4. Thanks for sharing,Bill. We will see Gray’s impish grin in every fire, and hear her laughter from every crow. God Bless you, Gray

  5. I’m so sorry Bill. My heart goes out to you, EG, and all the family. *Hugs*

  6. Gray was an incredible person. She could always make you laugh and saw the good in everything. She will be greatly missed. Rest in peace Gray.

  7. Gray was truly a kind and joyous person. She will be sadly missed. My condolences to her family.

  8. to a true lady i was blessed to mentor me when i started sylan’s nursery. she was a bright spot in all she did. i’m truely blessed to know her….

  9. Gray was the inspiration, the kind heart we were so blessed to have known. Thank you Gray for sharing your life with us.

  10. Bill, This is a beautiful tribute. I am glad that you were able to respect her wishes, though they may not have always made sense to you. Another way we think of denial in hospice is to redefine it as hope; perhaps, as it sounds like for Gray, the hope to live as fully as possible for as long as possible. Sounds like she did just that. I never met her, but had we met on any street anywhere, I would have known she was your sister. I am sorry for your loss.

  11. Bill,
    This is such a loving tribute to your sister. I have no doubt that you were a source of strength and serenity for her as she chose how to live her waning days. My heartfelt sympathy for your loss.

  12. Bill,
    Thanks for the pictures, and for being such a good brother.
    Please give my best to your mother.Thinking about all of you.
    Looking forward to sitting on our front porches, just rocking.
    Much love,

  13. Oh Bill. This living and dying. What a beautiful woman. Through it all. And your devotion. This being a brother. Thank you for the pictures and words. Love to you and also to your mother. Not easy. Holding you all in my heart, even from so far away. mgls

  14. Bill, this is a moving and heartfelt tribute in words and images. My Mom passed away from pancreatic cancer two years ago. She chose to keep her diagnosis secret from her extended family and denial was a big part of her coping, very much like your sister.

  15. A human life is a story told by God.  ~Hans Christian Andersen

    We were blessed, all who heard her story

  16. Oh Bill – this is a beautiful piece. And the poignant photos are a gift to us all. Thank you

  17. Our families have been friends for three generations; Gray grew up with me, was godmother to one of my children. She always had a twinkle in her eye and a ready laugh. God bless her and give her wings on her journey. Love and peace always to you, Bill and Emma Gray. Love, Kimmie

  18. Wait, wait! even so, a flush of yellow
    and strangely, O chilled wan soul, a flush of rose.

    A flush of rose, and the whole thing starts again.

    The flood subsides, and the body, like a worn sea-shell
    emerges strange and lovely.
    And the little ship wings home, faltering and lapsing
    on the pink flood,
    and the frail soul steps out, into the house again
    filling the heart with peace.

  19. Bill and Emma Gray, It is so sad to have to say goodbye to Gray and yet so comforting to know that, given her situation, she left on her own terms and gave joy to those around her until the very end.
    She was my oldest friend and I will remember her always.

  20. Words fail at times like this, yet we always try. All my memories of Gray are from childhood. She was always up for an adventure, always had a smile, always kind to people. What more is there to do? We would all be lucky to do as well. I’m sorry.

  21. oh, my, i think this is the first time i’ve seen a color photo of yours…a glorious rising for your sister’s spirit…more a celebration of her life than a mourning of her death…thanks, bill…sending you and yours love from the lowcountry…

  22. I was so happy to meet your sister last fall when she attended a work session with you during a pass-through in Charlottesville. Her eyes just twinkled as we spoke briefly. I have enjoyed learning about Gray’s life and interests through you. I admire her courage and indomitable spirit in continuing to live as she wished, pursuing new opportunities undaunted by her diagnosis. You and I have shared these stories because my mother was stricken with the same disease. Your website and photographs are a loving tribute. And, Bill, such nice insights you have shared into how people choose to deal with personal struggles in their own ways. You are so wise to have honored Gray’s wishes and to have opened your own life to spend so much time with her. Thinking of you, your mother, and Gray’s family …

  23. Dear Bill, It is always a great sorrow to suffer the loss of a loved one. Your graceful and centered celebration of her life as seen through the visions of those she most cherished is a visual epistle far more penetrating than fleeting words. She at the very least had the good fourtune to have a brother so close and skilled so as to produce such a silent epitaph beyond words but to the images of a life, if not a spirit passed away from us. Do please accept my most profound condolences to you and your family.
    William Hemsley

  24. Bill, I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your sister. She sounds amazing, this post is really beautiful.

  25. Bill, thank you for sharing your photos and thoughts of Gray. She really was a strong, vibrant wonderful person, a joy to you and your mom … This is so hard, but these wonderful words and photos will help all of you and us to keep her close. Hugs all around to you, your mom and all of the family. xox Kate

  26. Bill, We are so moved by this beautiful tribute to Gray. Wish we had known her, as she seems to have shared your spirit. We know that even after long illness, the loss is swift and hard, and we’re thinking of you. A grove of slow-growing sourwoods seems the perfect memorial–as you say, a place to sit and listen.
    Love, Jenny and Karl

  27. Thank you, Bill, for an eloquent, fitting moment with Gray. Her twinkle shines on.

  28. Bill
    She had one heck of a brother.
    You were both lucky.
    our thoughts are with you..

  29. Dear Bill,
    I do not know you or your family, but I do enjoy your photographs.
    When I saw this commentary in the Hook, I was moved to write with appreciation and sorrow for your loss.
    My mother died of ovarian cancer seven years ago, and she handled it very similarly. I would be exhausted after her (also social) day at the Infusion Center and she’d be ready for a gourmet cheeseburger.
    What a gift we can receive from folks like your sister and my mother.
    Thank you for sharing this.
    M.A. Sullivan

  30. Bill, this lovely tribute brings back a flood of memories of your free-spirited, fun-loving, wonderful sister. Heartfelt condolences to you and your mother, and to Gray’s family.

  31. Bill, thank you for sharing this with us. I am thinking of you and your family in this time of loss.

  32. To think a soul so near divine,
    Within a form so angel fair,
    United to a heart like thine,
    Has gladdened once our humble sphere.
    – Anne Bronte

  33. So sorry to hear about your loss, Bill. I’m sure I would have enjoyed meeting your sister. Thinking of you and your family,


  34. Lovely photos of a particularly beautiful woman. I like her ways and I admire her quiet, humble approach to disease and death. I hope I will be as selfless and brave when my time comes… Maybe my favorite photo, because of the caption, is “In the seat of happiness, Jane’s kitchen”.

    Your photos and words are indeed a wonderful tribute to an extraordinary woman, who obviously recognized the good things in life. Bless you all. You did her a great service by respecting her wishes.

  35. Gray was a beautiful person who was so kind to my sister when she moved to Richmond from NC. I am sorry they did not see much of each other in the years following, but Lizzie was always so fond of Gray. I watched them grow up together.

    They have now both managed to escape the rigors of our daily struggle. We can only hope that they are both at peace.


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  37. The photos are even more compelling now, somehow. Wrenching,but leave a positive feeling of power.

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